Given rising fuel prices and the marked shift by commuters onto public transport, the Select Committee criticises the Government at length for failures in its long term strategy. From The Guardian:
The white paper's failure to embrace high-speed rail - the document said the need for a fast network "has not currently been established" - is also singled out for stern criticism by the committee, amid mounting enthusiasm among Conservative party politicians and Network Rail executives for the idea.
"It is deeply disappointing that the white paper dodged the decision on high-speed rail," says the report, which urges the government to act immediately once Network Rail, the company that owns and maintains the British rail system, completes a feasibility study on high-speed rail next year. It adds: "Hesitation [over high-speed rail] now will mean years of avoidable misery and overcrowding on the network."
This damning report comes as public criticism of the rail network mounts. The Observer detailed yesterday the "travelling misery" about to be imposed on the public thanks to rail maintenance during Britain's traditional holiday month. Statistics within the article paint a grim picture of the main British alternative to cars:
Rail travel in Britain is also more expensive than anywhere else in Europe, according to a study by the travel agent Thomas Cook. In February it published figures showing that in Britain £10 will buy just 27 miles of travel by train, compared to 38 miles in Ireland and 50 in France. Recently the news that fares will soar yet again by as much as 10 per cent because of inflation generated another round of negative headlines.
Finally, MPs have taken a stab at train bosses' pay, and the frequency of six-figure bonuses despite a non-equivalent leap in service. Given the likelihood of a summer of misery, and no respite in service quality, this situation is unsustainable.
Government needs to re-visit Britain's railway network, considering seriously high-speed rail from hubs such as Heathrow (as suggested in these plans) and provide a reliable alternative to travel by car. Business needs plans to be outlined now, so that it can plan for the future.
You can read the full Select Committee report into railways, Delivering a Sustainable Railway: A 30 Year Strategy for the Railways, here.